A push to inject religion into Texas public schools failed on Tuesday after the State House failed to pass a controversial bill that would have required the Ten Commandments to be prominently displayed in every classroom .
The measure was part of an effort by conservative Republicans in the Legislature to expand the scope of religion in the daily lives of public schools. In recent weeks, both houses have passed versions of a bill allowing school districts to hire religious chaplains in place of licensed counselors.
But the Ten Commandments legislation, which passed the state Senate last month, remained pending before the Texas House until Tuesday, the last day to approve the bills before the end of the session. next Monday. Time expired before the legislation could receive a vote.
The bills appeared to be aimed at testing the openness of the conservative majority in the Supreme Court to re-examine the legal limits of religion in public education. Last year, the court sided with Washington state football coach Joseph Kennedy in a dispute over his prayers with players at the 50-yard line, saying that he had the constitutional right to do so.
“The law has undergone a dramatic change,” Matt Krause, a former Texas state representative and attorney at the First Liberty Institute, a conservative legal nonprofit focused on religious liberty, said during a hearing in Senate last month. “It’s no exaggeration to say that the Kennedy case, for religious freedom, was much like the Dobbs case was for the pro-life movement.”
In recent months, religious groups in several states have seemed interested in seeing how far states can now go in directly supporting religious expression in public schools. This month, the South Carolina legislature introduced its own bill to require the display of the Ten Commandments in all classrooms. In Oklahoma, the state Board of Education was asked earlier this year to approve the creation of an explicitly religious charter school; the board ultimately denied the request.
“Forcing public schools to display the Ten Commandments is part of the Christian nationalist crusade to force us all to live by their beliefs,” said Rachel Laser, president and CEO of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, an organization non-profit. band. She pointed to new laws in Idaho and Kentucky allowing public school employees to pray in front of students, and a bill in Missouri allowing optional Bible lessons. “It’s not just in Texas” she says.
Texas’ bill to post the Ten Commandments resembled another bill, passed in 2021 during the last legislative session, that required public schools to accept and post donated posters bearing the motto “In God WeTrust”. Patriot Mobile, a conservative Christian cellphone company outside of Fort Worth, was among the first to make such donations after the bill passed.
But the Ten Commandments legislation went further. It required schools to post posters with the words and to do so “in a prominent place in each classroom” and “in a size and font readable by a person with average vision from anywhere in the classroom. “.
Schools that don’t provide their own posters will have to accept poster donations, according to the bill. The legislation also specified how the commandments were to be rendered, with the text including the prescribed capitalization: “I AM the LORD thy God”.
The words, taken from a Protestant version of the commandments in the King James Version of the Bible, are the same that appear on a monument on the grounds of the Texas Capitol. Governor Greg Abbott, when he was state attorney general, successfully defended the location of the monument over a decade ago before the Supreme Court.
Legislation allowing school districts to hire chaplains or accept them as volunteers has been touted as a solution to a problem in Texas and other states: a shortage of school counselors. Opponents of the measure said chaplains were not filling the need because they did not have the same expertise, training or license as counsellors.
“The way the bill is written, a school board could choose to have no counselors, no family specialists, no school psychologists and replace them entirely with chaplains,” said Diego Bernal, a Democratic Representative. from San Antonio, at a hearing this month.
“I guess if the schools thought it was a necessary thing, they could make that decision,” responded the bill’s sponsor at the State House, Cole Hefner, a Republican Representative from East Texas.
The measure, known as Senate Bill 763, passed the Texas Senate and then the House; now the chambers must agree on a final version before sending it to Mr. Abbott.
The Ten Commandments bill, known as Senate Bill 1515, also passed smoothly through the state Senate, where far-right Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick holds enormous power. He praise the bill as “one step we can take to ensure that all Texans have the right to freely express their sincere religious beliefs.”
But after going to the Texas House, the legislation faced a problem common to the Republican-dominated Legislature, which meets once every two years and whose members this session have introduced more than 8,000 bills. : deadlines in the legislative calendar.
Tuesday was the last day for the House to pass bills. As Republicans rushed to do so, Democrats, who wield little direct power, delayed the proceedings by speaking at length and repeatedly at every opportunity for much of the day, a process known in the Texas Capitol as the name “chubbing”.
In doing so, they prevented the Ten Commandments bill — and many other controversial measures placed late in the day’s schedule — from coming to a vote.
“This bill was an unconstitutional attack on our fundamental freedoms, and we are glad it failed,” David Donatti, attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, said in a statement. “The First Amendment guarantees families and religious communities — not politicians or government — the right to instill religious beliefs in their children.”